A/N: This is my telling of Mary's story. I got an idea for this after watching an episode in season 4 that developed into this. This is a partial rewrite of season 4 and what happens to Mary afterwards. Some events stay the same, some change. If you are a Mary/Adam shipper (I am myself, but I had to write this!), this may not be for you!
After Ma steered the wagon around the bend in the road, Mary let out a huge sigh of relief. She was afraid he may have left long before the sun rise. She knew it was him instantly, but looked to his back pocket for his signature red handkerchief for confirmation. His tall muscular frame was walking long strides just up ahead in the dusty road. Mary's eyes ran up and down his frame from the top of his sun-bleached hat reminding her of Pa to his dusty boots that had traveled so many roads. Those boots had been to places she could only dream about, places she would never see. As they approached Mary could see him tense a bit when he heard the jingle of the horses' harnesses. Finally he stopped to receive them on the side of the brown dirt road.
Mary's heart fluttered when his eyes traveled from Ma's inquisitive face to hers. At last here was Chris; the man who surprised them all by being directed to their farm by Mr. Oleson to offer his services in constructing the kitchen Pa had to leave unfinished. He was on his way back down the road to his next adventure and Mary and Ma were determined for him to come back. Oh, she made a mistake and how she wished she could take back every word. Mary was feeling things she wasn't sure she was ready to feel again.
"Sorry about last night. I said things… I'm sorry," Mary let out.
Something in his eyes came alive when she spoke those words to him, but before Chris could reply Ma began.
"We'd like you to come back. If you would."
Questions flew through Chris's mind. Should he go back? What should he expect if he did? Should he go on? Would any of it make a difference? Did Mary understand what he meant last night? Could she forgive him for the mistakes he made?
"No," he said with a bit of nervousness Mary could see in his face. When he saw this he went on. "I'm a wanderin' man! More than two weeks in one place is like a lifetime to me."
The hole in Mary's heart crumbled a little more. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Here was her second chance right in front of her and it may already be taken away. Mary knew God didn't play jokes, but this was too much…
"It's because of me, isn't it?" she questioned.
"No, child, it's just me. Time for me to be moving on. That's all," was Chris's attempt to reassure her.
Child? Was a child all she was to him? Why, she was fifteen years old! Hardly a child. Some of her childhood companions were married already! Other reasons found their way to the front of her mind. Maybe he called her a child in some sort of effort to distance himself from her… from his feelings for her. Surely he must feel something. Right?
"We still owe you for your work," Ma prompted him. Mary studied his face. For a split second Chris looked down and she thought he may have changed his mind. Maybe he would come back to the farm with her Ma and all this would go away.
His decision was made.
"You don't owe me. Room and board… and a chance to get to know you all… that's payment enough," Chris resolved.
Still keeping eye contact with him, unwilling to let him slip away any sooner then she had to, Mary asked "Where will you go now?"
Chris Nelson had all he could do before he was ready to pull Mary Ingalls from the wagon seat and into his arms. He spoke his last words to Mary, in the hopes she would understand why he was going to do what he was about to do. It was the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life. He was saying his goodbyes.
"I don't know. Maybe I'll try to find me a woman like your Ma."
All was quiet for a moment. The crickets were silent. The birds in the trees ceased singing their song. Even the wind was gone. Chris shifted his gaze from Mary's beautiful face to Ma's equally lovely one. Ma remained silent. She had a haunch, as mothers do, as to what was unfolding before her. Chris understood that Ma, at least, knew what he was hinting at. He had high hopes she would explain things to Mary and talk to her about these things when he was gone. Ma was more experienced in the ways of love. Chris saw the corners of Ma's mouth turn upward into a slight smile of validation. Glancing at Mary once more, Chris said his goodbyes one last time. He picked up his canvas bag holding his precious tools and other worldly goods and started on his way up the grassy knoll.
Mary sprung off the wagon seat with lightning speed.
"Chris! Please don't go… I-I'm sorry… really!" she cried out to him.
Chris Nelson stopped in his tracks and turned towards Mary Ingalls. "Mary, I… you know I have to go. It's time for me to move on."
"But why? You can come back to the farm and stay in the soddie until Pa comes home. Then we can all talk about this…"
"No," Chris decided. "I could never replace your Pa."
"Replace Pa? Chris, you wouldn't… please don't say goodbye. Anything but that."
"I'm sorry, Mary. Goodbye for now."
Mary watched him go and listened with a sinking heart to the song he whistled. She knew it by heart. She headed for the wagon. The moments it took her to reach the horses was the longest moment of her life. They seemed to drift on and on… She reached the wheel and climbed up to seat herself next to her mother. As Ma unwound the reins from the brake, Mary sent a fleeting look in the direction he was headed, to the man who entered her life only a few short weeks ago. Now, with the notes of Chris's tune echoing in her head, she turned towards home with Ma. Chris Nelson was leaving Walnut Grove a changed man.